Open mic night a beacon to musicians
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Mon., Mar. 11, 2013
Ashford native Mike Peters brought his guitar and four original songs to The Stomping Ground in Putnam on March 10 for what has become a weekly routine for some area musicians: open mic night. Peters has only been playing the guitar for five years, but he's played at venues in Stafford, Willimantic, Manchester, Putnam and Pomfret. “I try to play once a week,” he said. He's played at the Stomping Ground twice. “It's definitely a challenge,” he said.
Conversations can be loud. There are the sounds of glasses clinking on table tops, chairs being pulled across the floor, people laughing, and waiters taking orders while the music is playing. A musician might think no one is listening, until the song ends. Then there is a groundswell of applause.
This is a place where musicians come to play and to listen. There's camaraderie among them, one not tainted by competition, according to Chris Condon. “It's a great atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone gets along. We love playing and hearing other people play. We really appreciate the space.”
Condon and Kent Spottswood of Campbell-MacDonald opened the evening with four songs. Then Spottswood took over hosting duties. Spottswood is a retired journalist, and musician who's played guitar and harmonica for more than 20 years. It's his job to handle the performer list, to number the order of appearances, to tell people when they'll get their chance to play.
“I tried to be in a rock and roll band in my 20s,” Spottswood said. “I had a passion for playing and writing.” He forged a career with his writing, but never let go of the music. That was what brought him to the attention of Terry and Sarah Paquette, co-owners of The Stomping Ground. “We heard him play and saw how much music mattered to him,” Terry said.
When they opened The Stomping Ground, they wanted music to be a focal point. Live music is featured five nights a week. A variety of musicians have brought rock, folk, bluegrass, country, and rhythm and blues with them. “We've had some incredible acts,” Sarah said. “Musicians have come from Worcester and Gloucester. We've been blown away by some of them.” But Sunday is reserved for open mic night. “It can be a long run,” Terry said. “It runs till we close.”
They asked Spottswood to host their first open mic. He's been doing it ever since. The ground rules are simple: anything goes but hate talk and bigotry. The first person to sign in is the first one to perform. By 7 p.m., five musicians had signed up to play. The list grew with the evening. Three sets in, two men came through the door with guitar cases slung across their backs. They put them in the alcove window that opened out onto Main Street. There were several other guitar cases there, waiting for their owners to take the stage.
Ellen Fagan, of Dudley, introduced herself to the crowd. Then she launched into Etta James' “At Last.” The bar grew quiet. When she was finished, she took a sip of water. “The next songs I'll play are originals, just to warn you,” she said with a laugh.
“It's a blast,” said Peter Blair after his set. “The focus here is on art and music. People are either paying attention to the music or talking with each other.” And it provides a unique place for musicians to meet and talk about their craft.
Fagan recently moved to the area. “I've met other musicians and they've asked me to collaborate,” she said. “It's a better way to meet people.”
Joseph DeMaio, who performs as Papa Joe, said the crowd was good, the sound system better. “I'd rate it an eight on a scale of one to 10,” he said.